I recently wrote a rather breathless piece about Jon Udell joining Microsoft. At the time I hoped his departure from Infoworld would mean he could provide a full text feed, rather than snippets. I must admit I didn’t always read his stuff partly because it meant going over to Infoworld (that one click new tab open is just a killer…) The only way to ensure my attention is by allowing me to read stuff in the context I choose…
So I was very happy to see that his new digs offers full text RSS so now I can read his stuff in my aggregator (although I may of course have to visit Jon for multimedia). I believe Jon understands feed/portal duality extremely well, so its great he is going to be able work on that, without having the commercial restrictions inherent in working for Infoworld.
Of course working for Microsoft will impose a different set of constraints, but for now we can perhaps see Jon’s arrival as more evidence heralding what some are calling the deportalization of the Interweb. I prefer to think of it as mass portalisation, but perhaps Stowe has it best when he says, pointing at Keith Teare,
“It’s the movement of power from the large companies at the center to the edglings: we, the people.”
But in this case it will be Microsoft funding this redistribution of influence to the edge (well, New Hampshire, anyway.)
We are on the verge of some pretty substantial changes around who gets paid what, why and how. Stephen outlined some of the new Patronage thinking in RedMonk Is Brought To You By.
“As much as we believe in giving back, however, we do have mortgages to pay and beers to drink, so we need paying customers that share our belief in this model and the importance of participation, openness and transparency. That appreciate that value can be measured by metrics other publications produced only for paying customers. That appreciate that there are fundamental shifts underway in how authority and reputation are accorded and maintained. That appreciate that sometimes value creation is indirect.
Fortunately, we’re finding such customers. From those that have been with us almost from day one (almost four years ago now, wow) like IBM and Sun, to our latest recruits such as IONA, MuleSource, MySQL, and SpiceWorks, we’re proud to work with each and every one of them. But while we convey, I think, our pleasure at that aspect of our relationship, I do not think we do a good enough job recognizing that it’s ultimately their support – their patronage if you prefer that description of the model – that allows us to publish the research that we do and otherwise give back to communities wherever we can. Research which we hope benefits a much wider community of than just our customers.”
Other sources: GeekyGirl points to the New Sponsorship Model for Blogs/Websites. I actually think it goes further than that; sponsoring people and teams not sites per se. We also have for example Philanthropy 2.0 in the shape of Kiva.
One of my clients told me two years ago he would be happy to pay us money just because he dislikes a certain large industry analyst firm so much. He paid us for the value we bring, but being an irritant was a side benefit he joked he would happily pay for. Vinnie talks to the New Florence and I subscribe to the idea, certainly in as much as it means we all need to look for our very own Borgias.
Big companies need to find ways to sponsor the grassroots; supporting open source, for example, is a great way to do it. Will there be conflicts of interest inherent in the new Patronage economy? Of course: there are conflicts of interest in any company. But authentic will win out in many cases. Check out, for example, Blake on Google. Or think of Jeremy and Novell and his departure to Google.
Unlike the original Renaissance however, where patronage resources were somewhat scarce (well not in Venice, obviously), there are a glut of companies chasing the talent, wanting to sponsor them, benefit from them, capture some of the patina. Back to Stowe and edginess. But the talent is likely to be folks with powerful voices in their own right – global microbrands even. Hugh himself is another good example of the New Patronage at work, in his relationship with tailors, winemakers and yacht sellers.
In this view of the world, open source, Creative Commons and Open Data, are even more important, because it may be that the only way the talent is willing to hand over its intellectual property is in the form of shared community assets. If code is open source I can work on it regardless of who I work for at any given time- (Jeremy again). Otherwise if i leave I have to leave my baby behind. The talent potentially has a lot more control. In the music world this might translate into a refusal to allow record companies to DRM-hobble works. And if companies want to buy the talent’s IP outright they may find that rates start to go up considerably.
Finally I want to raise another point about the New Patronage Economy. A wide range of skills are likely required, notably an ability communicate and amplify ideas and create communities around them.
Gifted amateurs often make breakthrough discoveries. Innovation is invariably cross domain. Those that are funded/sponsored are likely to be those that are comfortable in a variety of domains. Note, for example, engineer’s paradise Google acknowledges the need to hire more rounded individuals. I think the obsession with specialisation which sees its apogee in things like IBM’s Component Business Modelling is going to start waning. Malcolm Gladwell in this great piece talks to the fact that a tax specialist could have seen through Enron’s numbers in a second. Accounting professionals couldn’t. Successful analysis requires synthesis. I am not saying that all specialisation is bad- that would be absurd, but rather we’re going to start aknowledging the value of the generalist again.
Innovation requires some collaboration and some sloppiness. Large Organisations can benefit from heft but need to start using it in different ways. Microsoft is doing just that. Giving away laptops – that’s an act of Patronage. Hiring Udell is another.
Another implication? It makes absolutely no sense to become a patron and then interfere, or watch the clock. Patronage is fundamentally a model than concentrates on value, and outputs, rather than inputs.
I will conclude with a Wikipedia citation because it talks directly to my argument.
From the ancient world through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and into the early modern era, patronage of the arts was an important if not crucial phenomenon. It is known in greatest detail in reference to pre-modern Europe, though patronage can also be traced in feudal Japan and the traditional kingdoms of Southeast Asia and elsewhere—art patronage tended to arise wherever a royal or imperial system and an aristocracy dominated a society and controlled a significant share of its material resources. Rulers, nobles, and very wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. That is, patrons operated as sponsors. Various languages still use a term, “mecenate,” derived from the name of Emperor Augustus’ generous friend and adviser Gaius Maecenas. Some patrons, such as the Medici of Renaissance Florence, additionally used artistic patronage to “cleanse” wealth that was perceived as ill-gotten through usury.
While sponsorship of artists and the creation of art works is the best-known aspect of the patronage system, other disciplines and activities also benefitted from patronage, from early science (called natural philosophy), to scholarship and philosophy and all forms of intellectual endeavor, to practices like alchemy and astrology—all enjoyed varying levels of support from interested patrons.
Art patronage was especially important in the creation of religious art; organized religions have sponsored artistic development on every scale, from the largest architectural expressions in cathedrals, mosques, and temples to the smallest miniatures of painting and sculpture, and handicrafts of all types.
In European cultural history, virtually every major and minor figure in music, literature, and the fine arts from the Medieval period to the early modern era had some relationship with the patronage system, in which royal and noble patrons subsidized artistic creation. Artists as diverse and important as Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Jonson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons. Figures as late as Mozart and Beethoven also participated in the system to some degree; it was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the nineteenth century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly-supported system of museums, theaters, mass audiences and mass consumption that is familiar in the contemporary world.
This kind of system continues across many fields of the arts. Though the nature of the sponsors has changed—from churches to charitable foundations, and from aristocrats to plutocrats—the term patronage has a more neutral connotation than in politics. It may simply refer to direct support (often financial) of an artist, for example by grants.
disclaimer: IBM and Microsoft are RedMonk patrons.
Udell photo sourced from Robin Good. The other image I suspect is out of copyright… 😉